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Trendspotting and the Disneyification of Wine

Twenty five years ago when Las Vegas made its turn towards the present day of mega resort playground with faux Eiffel Towers and such, critics derided the “Disneyification” of sin city, as if invoking the words “Disney” was a bad thing. 

Fortunately, food and drink came along for the ride and Vegas is one of the premiere destinations in the country for fine dining and wine, duking it out with San Francisco and New York proper for culinary supremacy even if you can still take a roller coast ride around a faux NY skyline in Vegas, having your cake and eating it next to a nickel slot.

The Bellagio advertises that there are 96 Master Sommeliers in the U.S. and three of them are at their property – it used to be four Master Somms. At Bellagio until September of ’08 when they lost Rob Bigelow to the distribution side of the three-tier when he moved to Wirtz.

Undaunted, Disney is asking for their “Disneyification” back and it may be they are applying it to the wine world.  In fact, they have two Master Sommeliers on property.

And in a related move, quietly, the Professional Culinary Institute (better known as PCI) opened a second campus in Orlando, Florida, on February 3rd.  Orlando being the home of Disney World. 

The mention of the opening of PCI in Orlando, as noted by Sommelier Journal magazine, indicates:

… the Orlando campus will offer a 55-class Certified Sommelier curriculum that will prepare students for the Court of Master Sommeliers ‘ first two levels.  Twenty-four aspiring sommeliers will be admitted to the first class in Orlando …

It continues:

According to PCI’s director of wine schools, David Glancy, MS, CWE, “Florida as a whole has rapidly become of the most important wine markets in the country.  Thanks to trailblazers … like … John Blazon at Disney World, the sommelier community in Florida is on fire.  In 2001, there were no Master Sommeliers in the state and now there are eight.”

I happened to come across this blurb at the same time I came across a wine-related article in a Disney magazine (don’t ask why I was reading a Disney magazine).

The article notes:

Because this is Disney, a commitment to wine means a commitment to wine education.  There may not be a better-trained wine sales force in the world. “What we have done is build an army of educated wine people,” says (Michael) Jordan, (one of the resident Master Sommeliers).

Jordan continues,

“That means every waiter, everyone working the bar.”  Disney now employs nearly 700 Sommeliers who have passed exams from the Court of Master Sommeliers —including more than 100 aboard Disney Cruise Line ships – and working toward the Master Sommelier designation has become a part of the corporate culture.”

Other interesting factoids from the article include the notion that the African-themed Jiko in Animal Kingdom sells more wine that is South African then any restaurant outside of South Africa.

Now, I am not one of those guys that will get on a soapbox and rant about Las Vegas or Disney World.  If anything, I look at both places as beacons of American ingenuity.  Sure, often times it is a facsimile of the real thing and a dumbing down of culture that is already an American pandemic,  but I have had enjoyable times in both places within the last five years and I wouldn’t ask to trade those memories for any other trip.  And, frankly, I know more people will go to Disney World then the Smithsonian so I’m grateful for Epcot Center which has a smidgen of adult learning involved.  I am not an apologist, just a pragmatist.

I do, however, want to note that I do find this dueling Vegas and Disney World trend in the world of wine and wine education very, very interesting.  I would hasten a guess and say that precious few people in the wine business, outside of the Sommelier community, have given any thought as to the impact of U.S. based wine culture in five or 10 years based on where the hubs of wine education and certification is taking place.  Do we think that Vegas and Disney World as backdrops for a grounding in wine education will have an impact on the next generation Sommeliers, the ultimate trendsetters in the world of wine?  Do we think the corporate wine buying practices will impact the future tastemakers of the U.S. wine scene?  Is it likely that the next niche varietal like today’s Condrieu or Gruner Veltliner will bubble up in a buying environment that needs to serve a large audience?

Interesting questions, these are.  Let’s hope that these Sommeliers use their education to push their employers to further explore global wine nooks and crannies and not the other way around. 


Link to French swear words


Posted in, Free Run: Field Notes From a Wine Life. Permalink | Comments (1) |


On 02/10, mydailywine wrote:

There is no doubt for those of us who work in the wine trade, especially who handle national accounts, Vegas and Orlando are increasingly important stopping points.
But I do believe we are quite a ways from the average American coming home from Disneyland or a weekend in Vegas and remembering what wine they enjoyed there, especially if it was a Gruner.
Nevertheless, this army of wine ambassadors and educators do spread the word that wine has invaded the lifestyles of middle America.


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